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Zharth's Music Log

Week 15: Hellhound On My Trail

Preface: I have an idea for a film. Although it is obviously greatly inspired by the "hellhound on my trail" idea, it is in no way another "take" on the Robert Johnson legend, and features other inspirations besides. The basic plot of the story is that a man dies in a plane crash, but doesn't realize it. So gradually, throughout the movie, he comes to realize the nature of his existence, as he attempts to make it back home, and as his environment becomes increasingly nightmarish and supernatural. Sure, the idea's been done to death, but I wouldn't bother if I didn't feel that I had something original to contribute, and besides, in this day of shotgun remakes, I think taking an old idea and doing something new with it is a lot more interesting than trying to redo something that's already been done (and well). The trick that'll make this movie a success is depicting a realistic yet terrifying portrayal of the nightmare realms of hell itself. Even when the man discovers that he is already dead, he is still determined to outrun the very hounds of hell, so as to reach his home and see his beloved one last time before leaving her forever. Will he make it in time, or will the hounds get him first? Or is it already too late?

This week we'll explore some songs that I've considered for the soundtrack to the film.

Monday (10/29/07): Robert Johnson - Hellhound On My Trail [The Complete Recordings, 1936]
Comments: "I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving...there's a hellhound on my trail." No point in denying the inspiration, but that's not the only reason I want this song in the movie. I read a quote once that went something like this: "what is scary is not what goes bump at midnight, but which whispers at midday." That really struck me. Even so, the majority of the film is set after dark (one of the 'clues' to the nightmare is the fact that 'day' never comes), but the opening scene is meant to capture the soul of that quote. The scene is as follows: it is bright, sunny, midday, in a west coast town. A warm, soft breeze rustles through the trees. The main character is speaking on a pay phone to his beloved, at home on the east coast. "Business meeting was successful. On my way home. See you very soon. I love you." The man hangs up the phone, and strolls down the country road. He passes an old bluesman playing Hellhound On My Trail, which barely captures his attention, but it sticks in his subconscious. Another breeze. Quiet. A mangy, starving dog growls angrily; starts barking at the main character, who is thoughtfully disturbed. Another breeze. He continues walking. Cue the opening credits sequence, to be discussed tomorrow.

Tuesday (10/30/07): Bloodrock - D.O.A. [Bloodrock 2, 1971]
Comments: The main character is flying in a commercial airliner, up above the clouds. He has fallen asleep in his seat. He dreams of a vast city rising out of the clouds, and then he sees a dark figure soaring through the sky. There's a jolt, and the man seems to awaken. He's sitting in the plane, but he can't seem to move, or speak, or even breathe. A dark figure strides up the aisle and kneels down beside the man's chair. The man can sense only terror, dread, helplessness, victimization. The plane jolts again, then suddenly, the image fades, and the man wakes up for real. Only to behold a scene of panic. The plane is going down. "I remember, we were flying along, and we hit something in the air." There's a huge crash, and then wreckage strewn across the ground. Bodies scattered among the debris. The main character is alive. He crawls out from the wreckage and ambles away aimlessly. He does not yet know it, but the chase has begun. "God in heaven, teach me how to die."

Wednesday (10/31/07): Pink Floyd - Careful With That Axe, Eugene (Live) [Live At Pompeii, 1972]
Comments: Most people think Pink Floyd hit their stride in 1973 with the release of the groundbreaking sonic album Dark Side of the Moon, but the truth is, the band reached their maximum potential one year earlier, when they performed to an empty coliseum in Pompeii, surrounded by the ghosts of the victims of Vesuvius' wrath, while their material was still unbound by the constraints of popular opinion and unhindered by the stresses of monetary success. For Halloween, this is Pink Floyd's creepiest recorded track, and my personal favorite from their catalog. It's also a must for my film's soundtrack, as it provides a perfect backdrop and crescendo for a good nightmare scene.

Thursday (11/01/07): The Who - Heaven And Hell (Live) [Live At Leeds, 1970]
Comments: A fantastic live song from the Who's great live album, Live At Leeds. "Why can't we have eternal life, and never die?" The theme is perfect for my film, but the tune's a little too upbeat for what I have in mind. Still, I think it would work well in the right kind of setting. Picture a somewhat rundown old cafe, like out on the highway somewhere. The main character wanders in, hoping to find a phone or at least get an idea of where exactly he is. He enters the cafe, and this song is playing on some radio behind the bar, or perhaps streaming in from the next room. Kind of a subtle reference to what's going on, if anybody recognizes the song or cares to pay attention to the lyrics. I like the idea.

Friday (11/02/07): King Crimson - Epitaph [In The Court Of The Crimson King, 1969]
Comments: "Confusion will be my epitaph, as I crawl a cracked and broken path." I've always loved this dramatic epic by King Crimson, and I think it would fit the mood of my film quite well. "Every man is torn apart with nightmares and with dreams." Sounds kinda like Jacob's Ladder, which my would-be film owes a huge debt to. Main character spends the majority of the film trying to put the pieces together, trying to understand the nature of his existence, and the source of the nightmares around him. But the ending is quite different. "If we make it, we can all sit back and laugh - but I fear tomorrow I'll be crying."

Saturday (11/03/07): Spooky Tooth - Lost In My Dream [Spooky Two, 1969]
Comments: So naturally, when things start getting weird, like seeing strange creatures, and the fact that the sun never comes up, the main character speculates that maybe he's trapped inside a dream. "Gotta find a way home somehow; lost in infinite sleep somewhere." But just how real is it? "Out of nowhere there came a voice to me; it said this nightmare will be reality." Eventually, he'll come to realize that the nightmare is indeed real.

Sunday (11/04/07): Procol Harum - The Dead Man's Dream [Home, 1970]
Comments: "The houses were open, and the streets empty; the windows were bare, and the pavements dirty." The main aspect of this film is the transformation of things familiar into things altogether strange. Nothing's quite right. As time passes, things get even more dreamlike, more nightmarish. As the main character approaches his home city, the environment shifts further into the districts of hell, and the city itself becomes Pandaemonium, the capital of Hell. The illusion is revealed to be what it is - something of a dead man's dream. But when he wakes up, it will be the end of all. So before the hounds catch up with him, before the demons drag him under, before the world completely slips into nightmarish hell, can he see his beloved just one last time? All hell's broken loose and they're after my soul...